I had the opportunity to visit one of the oldest places of worship, in all of Uruguay, located in Colonia, Uruguay. The name of this parish is Basílica del Santísimo Sacramento (Basilica of the Holy/Blessed Sacrament in English also known alternatively as “Iglesia Matriz de Colonia”), which is a common name used for a couples of places of worship in South America, like more known one in Argentina, but this is quite a special place.
While not much eye candy, actually there is almost nothing to see there and is a very tiny building, Basílica del Santísimo Sacramento sits where the original parish once stood, just in the form of a small shanty mud shack, back in 1680 AD as part of a ranch that existed in the area, at the time, in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. It sits in an area which faces towards the country of Argentina, separated by the Rio De La Plata. If you look up the location, on a map, you could imagine that this location was a huge strategic point to own, considering the powers in the area, in the 17th century.
If one knows the history of European conquerors’ activities in South America, in their quest to take over the new world and expand their empires, this original church dates back to when the Portuguese held this portion of the territory. However, the Spanish also came into the picture, in the region, and eventually claimed the area, but because of these historic battles the battles, the church also indirectly took a battering. The original structure of the basilica, where this current form exists, was created in 1808, in Portuguese style, but some years later was destroyed by a single lightning bolt (ironic).
This area saw a lot of war in the Spanish vs Portuguese battles for Argentina, Brasil and Uruguay, that the area had a lot of gunpowder, and residue from gunpowder, all over the place, and this building was no exception to the law of physics. The lightning struck the gunpowder-laced building and blew it up almost entirely! 1842 they put the rest of the basilica back together, and that’s the form was still see standing now. Crazy!
This building has been through WAR! Charles Darwin himself was invited to pass time in Colonia, during his travels, and noted it in his works when he saw it 2/3 of it was blown up, he noted in his diary, describing the scene in a Nov 17th entry as: “a rare and destroyed monument of the power of electricity and gunpowder united“. It’s located in a historic site, labeled as such by UNESCO, because Colonia del Sacramento is a very famous war city.
The structure will continue to be maintained as a result of this, which is good news. I wondered why the church remained so ‘basic’, but likely, if this was a major port, and was the protection from attacking forces that would come from Argentina, attacking via the Rio de la Plata, no one would put a lot of money into something that can be shot up with cannon fire so easily. It really isn’t that far from the water and it’s facing directly towards the river. It was probably “church express” to these guys.